Weapons of the Samurai from Osprey Publishing LTD’s series Weapons will help modelers and students of the samurai to increase their knowledge of the samurai and their formidable arsenal.


Weapons of the Samurai is the 79th title in Osprey Publishing LTD’s series Weapons.  With text including previously untranslated primary sources paired with current research, modelers and students of the samurai can increase their knowledge of the samurai through this exploration of the formidable arsenal of those legendary warriors.  Osprey states:

    This fully illustrated new book describes and analyses the weapons and equipment traditionally associated with the samurai, Japan's superlative warriors. It examines the range of weapons used by them at different times and in different situations.

    Beginning with the rise of the samurai during the 10th century, this lively study traces the introduction of edged weapons (cutting and piercing) and missile weapons (bows and guns) over the next 500 years. The book shows clearly how they were employed by individual samurai using many previously untranslated primary texts, and explains how their use spread more widely among low-class troops, pirates and rebels. It also shows how schools of martial arts took over and changed the weapons and their uses during the peaceful Edo Period (1615-1868).

Authored by Stephen Turnbull and illustrated by artists Johnny Schumate and Alan Gilliland, this 80-page book is available in softcover, PDF, and ePUB.  Catalogued with the Osprey short code WPN 79, the paperback also is listed as ISBN 9761472844040.

Weapons of the Samurai


Weapons of the Samurai is divided into these chapters and sections:



    Arming the samurai
    Samurai weapons in combat
    Evolution and influence




The glossary presents dozens of weapons types by their Japanese name, and the western equivalent.  Painted scrolls and screens cited in the book are now available for viewing and the author includes URLs to access them.  Multiple primary and secondary sources are also included.

In developing this history, the author accessed many previously published works,as well as many previously untranslated sources.  Much of samurai history is preserved in scrolls and painted screens, perhaps similar to tapestries, many with narratives.   Names and terms for samurai weapons sometimes changed significantly over the centuries, as did the noun samurai itself.  Those facts can confuse those of us unfamiliar with the complexity of the samurai presence in medieval Japan but fortunately, Mr. Turnbull goes at length to clarify and explain the differences.

The first 27pages introduce the title subject and Arming the samurai.  Eight weapons families are presented:

·       Yumi: the Japanese bow

·       Ōdachi and nodachi: extra-long sword

·       Naginata: a Japanese glaive

·       Nagamaki sword

·       Clubs,axes, clawed weapons: Bō, kanabō and kanasaibō, masakari, ono, fuetsu, kuma

·       Yari: theJapanese spear

·       Hiya: Chinese-style firearms

·       Teppō: the Japanese arquebus

Each weapon is treated to a detailed description such as eras used, sources of identification, methods of use, even discussing types of woods and other materials used in construction.  Variants are covered in detail depending on source availability, with newly translated sources offering heretofore unverified understanding.

Use examines just that – how these weapons were employed.  Some were unique.  Explored is whether a weapon was meant for use against people or fortifications, with qualifiers.  Each family of weapons receives a section. 

Thirty-four pages of use is explained from research but also through historical works such as scrolls and inscriptions, and the like. Employment is illustrated by period artwork.  Samurai were not merely armed with one or two weapons but often had a wide range to select from as the tide of battle ebbed and flowed, the combined arms tactics of today.

Recounted are how some weapon types were particularly effective in certain battles:

The account begins by noting that Yukihide's master Akamatsu Mitsusuke has already committed suicide, so his follower has nothing to live for except to seek death honourably and take as many rivals with him as he can. In preparation for his heroic death, Yukihide dresses calmly in a fine suit of armour patterned with tiny cherry blossoms and takes into his hands what is described as a 'long sword', which must be a naginata rather than an ōdachi because it is described as having a shaft of over 8 shaku (204cm) in length. He chooses a position in the castle's south tower and shouts down a challenge to which Kageyasu responds. The latter is described as using a bow that needs five men to string it, and he looses from it an arrow of 13 spans and 3 fingers in length. The arrow buries itself deep into the shaft of Yukihide's naginata three sun (9.1cm) above its butt end.  More arrows follow and sink firmly into the tower's superstructure, so Yukihide makes a rapid descent to take on Kageyasu in single combat.  Other enemy horsemen meet Yukihide as he arrives, but he is a ‘matchless warrior' and takes on his adversaries in the 'four-corners, eight style’ of fighting, furiously felling no fewer than13 men with his naginata. Kageyasu apprises the situation and regrets that he cannot settle the matter by putting an arrow into the 'demon', so he leaps from his horse with a challenge to Yukihide. Kageyasu is armed with an ōdachithat is over 6 shaku (181.8cm) long.  He raises it in front of him and advances in Yukihide's direction. Yukihide hears the challenge and replies to it with a smile while taking hold of his own weapon with great skill, and attacks his opponent 'with a dancing step'.  Kageyasu responds in kind and they fight each other, but because both are very strong warriors they struggle for a whole hour with no sign of a decision going one way or the other.  Yukihide then uses the butt of his naginata to strike Kageyasu in the front of his helmet. The blow must have stunned Kageyasu because it settles his fate, and the point of Yukihide's weapon then pierces his neck to kill him.

 As mentioned, the author tries to clarify some confusion regarding terminology, i.e., use of the term ishiyumi, or ‘stone bow,’ and whether firearms were the Chinese hiya or an arquebus.  It also explores ‘stone wounds’ verses ‘shot wounds.’ This chapter effectively explains how those weapons were actually used.

Impact starts with Weapons and the Individual Samurai which explains and details the sounds of battle and type of wounds that were inflicted.  New Weapons and Samurai Culture discusses which weapon was the primary weapon but eventually supplanted, and the ‘pecking order’ of which weapon it was more honorable to be killed or wounded by.  New Weapons and Japanese Warfare and Mixed Weapon Combat provides an understanding of what warfare was like, supported by lists of wounds, and several combat narratives.  Finally, Conclusion presents various biases that have widely confused understanding of samurai weapons and use, and development of organized armies.  It ends with a summation of the value of weapon families from the book Gorinshō  by celebrated swordsman Miyamoto Musashi.

Photographs, Artwork, Graphics

An impressive gallery of images support then text.   Color photographs of weapons in museums and collections illustrate the text.  Such displays are arranged in a clean, orderly fashion allowing excellent visibility including a very effective arrangement of eight types of arrowheads.   Colorful illustrations from Japanese artwork, scrolls, and screens are included and reveal images of primary sources.  Those ancient illustrations are supported with artwork produced for this book by artists Johnny Schumate and Alan Gilliland.  These include:

1.     The Teppō Exposed, Japanese matchlock arquebus of the Sengoku Period – three illustrations of the firearm - full length Teppō, trigger mechanism close-up, trigger mechanism from above matched to the closeup – keyed to 16 components and five actions of the firing sequence.

2.     Polearms: unique nine weapon types ranging from axes to clubs to glaives, each described in a call -out box:

    a.     Naginata, a long-curved blade

    b.     Ono axe

    c.      Heitsui mallet

    d.     Kanasaibō studded club

    e.     Tsukubō, used for snaring and entangling

    f.       Tsuitō, used to keep adversary at a distance

    g.     Kumade clawed grappling polearm

    h.     Teikō sickle spear

    i.       Yari long-blade spear

3.     Two-page centerfold battle scene Weapons of the late 14th century, typical weapons of the Oei Rebellion depicting more than nine primary weapon types, as well a general detail of armor.

4.     Two-page centerfold battle scene Weapons of the late 16th century depict the fall of Tottori Castle, and several weapon types, as well a general detail of armor.

Those photos and images are worth the book by themselves.


Osprey's Weapons of the Samurai impresses me as a fine primer for modelers and historians of the legendary samurai.  The photos and artwork supporting the text is first-class, and the text itself is detailed, informative and very interesting.  The color photos are invaluable for painting your models.

I know nothing is perfect but I can’t find anything to nitpick about this work, and definitely recommend it.



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